The Journal of African History

Research Article

African Slavery and other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave-Trade

Walter Rodney

It has come to be widely accepted that slavery prevailed on the African continent before the arrival of the Europeans, and this indigenous slavery is said to have facilitated the rise and progress of the Atlantic slave-trade. According to P. D. Rinchon, ‘from the earliest days of the trade, the majority of the Negroes were living in a state of servitude, and the native chiefs did not have far to seek for the human merchandise’. Daniel Mannix, in one of the most recent accounts of the Atlantic slave-trade, contends that ‘many of the Negroes transported to America had been slaves in Africa, born to captivity. Slavery in Africa was an ancient and widespread institution, but it was especially prevalent in the Sudan.’ In the opinion of J. D. Fage, ‘the presence of a slave class among the coastal peoples meant that there was already a class of human beings who could be sold to Europeans if there was an incentive to do so… So the coastal merchants began by selling the domestic slaves in their own tribes.’ The main purpose of this brief study is to test these generalizations with evidence taken from the Upper Guinea Coast—the region between the Gambia and Cape Mount.